“Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain”
Kendal Mountain Festival 2009 was a rip-roaring, beer-drinking, film-watching, party-dancing success. The backdrop to the weekend was the terrible rain and flooding that swamped the Lake District. Kendal was hit, but luckily the roads stayed open and the festival was jam-packed. With the rain tumbling from the sky there was no guilt in spending the whole weekend inside.
The weekend was rammed with exciting films and lecture shows. Here we have a look at a few of the highlights that the UKC team saw.
Chris Sharma will never fail to impress me and make me envious of his utopian lifestyle. But I am his captive audience; like Chris, I'm presently gripped by power endurance! The world's best climber presented a smooth and well-organised chronology of his already widely documented climbing career. It was nice to revise his earlier ground-breaking 'sends', just to remind me how young he was when he became America's number 1. It was also great to see a glimpse of the ordinary day-to-day Catalonian life behind the superstar. Sharma showed lots of jaw-dropping video footage of his more recent ascents in Spain, although most clips are featured somewhere in the Big-up DVD collection, which I've already seen. The best bits for me, however, were his projects for the future; it's really interesting to find out how far he can keep pushing the sport forward. So good effort Chris, you're still better than Ondra in my eyes!!
Steve House is one of the World's most accomplished Alpinists, a superb climber, and, it would seem, writer. His book Beyond the mountain scooped the Banff mountain literature award and at Kendal it was the hotly tipped favourite to win the Boardman-Tasker prize. And win it did!
"It is a book we feel privileged to have read, and proud to have been asked to judge... We think it is an exceptional book." Commented Phil Bartlett, chief judge of the Boardman-Tasker prize in 2009.
Steve House did several events at Kendal including a slide-show on the Friday evening and an on stage interview / book reading with myself on Saturday. His slides were fantastic and his no-nonsense attitude toward danger and the real possibility of death were illuminating. I think the interview went well as no one walked out!
Planetfear interviewed Steve House and the interview is now available on the PlanetFear Website.
Dave Pickford was clearly born 100 years too late; his guise resembling an intrepid explorer of the undiscovered African Savannah. He looked quite at home, describing his discovery of the island of Madagascar to a captivated audience; from its formation from Gondwanaland over several millennia, through its unique evolution of fauna and flora, to more recent political scandals and the prospects of civil war, and onto an up-to-the minute report of cutting edge first ascents on the magnificent granite domes in the Tsaranoro Valley. Pickford seemed to 'sell' a visit to Madagascar to the entire audience through lovely photographs and entertaining video clips of first ascent antics with his climbing companions. I was particularly fascinated by his account of 'Tough Enough', one of the worlds hardest big wall climbs. After enthusiastically answering an abundance of interesting queries from the audience, we all thought it was time to applaud, but Dave was still eager to educate and entertain, and so concocted his own set of African and climbing related trivia for himself to answer - what a guy!
The Broadway Cinema in Nottingham and the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield are to show a selection of the very best films from the Kendal Mountain Festival 2009.
Showroom Cinema, Sheffield - Mon 30th November. 8.00pm AND
Broadway Cinema, Nottingham - Sun 6th December. 8.30pm
Showroom Cinema, Sheffield - Tue 1st December 2009. 8.15pm
Details and tickets at www.heason.net
The Asgard Project was much talked about. It documents Leo Houlding, Sean 'Stanley' Leary and Carlos Suarez's base jumping and climbing adventures in Riglos in Spain, Brento in Italy and El Cap in Yosemite with a grand finale up Mount Asgard on Baffin Island, all filmed by Alastair Lee and Ian Burton.
The first part of the film is wingsuit flying and will take your breathe away. But there is a story here, Leo Houlding describing his early years climbing whilst bouldering at Armathwaite, Cumbria. After 'training' jumps in Spain, Italy and the USA its onward to Baffin Island. Leo Houlding, Sean 'Stanley' Leary and Carlos Suarez, and barrels of gear parachute in to base camp at the base of Mount Asgard, the rest walk.
The climbing was brutal. Late August in the Arctic Circle is fickle: warm temperatures sent rocks hurtling down the approach, most of the boys got on the wall but Carlos Suarez stayed in camp with camera man. We aren't told why, but we can guess. Up the wall go Leo, Stanley, Alastair with Chris Reyburn and Jason Pickles and an epic ensues. Alastair has raised his game yet again and I'm sure he will soon break in to mainstream adventure film making away from the climbing ghetto.
The Wildest Dream - by Mick Ryan
The Wildest Dream, after Alone On The Wall, was a highlight of the festival for me. I like a good climbing story, even better if it is historical. The subject is George Mallory and Sandy Irvine's ill-fated attempt on Everest in 1924. They both perished. This attempt is re-enacted by Conrad Anker and Leo Houlding who climb the North East ridge of Everest with support from Gerry Moffatt and Kevin Thaw.
Conrad found Mallory's body in 1999. This is in part a love story and tragedy. The relationship between Mallory and his wife Ruth is explored, as is that between Anker and his wife Jennifer. Jennifer was the wife of the alpinist Alex Lowe who died died tragically in an avalanche on the Himalayan mountain Shishapangma, leaving her to raise three sons. Anker was with Lowe when he died.
It's a well told and haunting story and I was completely engaged throughout its 90 minutes
Welsh Connections drops into the standard formula of the Christmas DVD set. A set of exciting short films connected by some theme, in this case their 'Welshness', covering cutting edge ascents, whipper falls and whoops of delight at success. The best moments tend to be provided by those in extremis either falling, or not quite falling and there is an element of car crash TV about all this. Watching Gav Symmonds deep water soloing in Pembroke, you are just waiting for the plunge; but when it is James McHaffie running it out at Gogarth it does become really exciting since he has no water to stop the fall, just lots of air, a very long rope, and a rattly cliff to collide with. I won't spoil it by telling you who does fall.
Alone on the Wall - by Alan James (Grand Prize Winner)
I was extremely pleased that Alone on the Wall won the grand prize. This is truly exceptional film. I have no idea how they made it, and I am not bothered to find out, what I do know is that Alex Honnold is one of the most exceptional climbers of our time who also comes across brilliantly as a down to earth guy who visits his 'mom'. The film covers Alex's stunning solo ascents of North West Face of Half Dome, and Moonlight Buttress in Zion.
Many people have lauded his ascent of North West Face - the image that accompanies the film of the moment when Honnold froze on a ledge high on the face is indeed extremely striking - but for me it was the Moonlight Buttress ascent that really took my breath away. There are no ledges on Moonlight Buttress, nowhere to pause and gather your wits, it is just full on from the bottom to the top with the final pitches weighing in at 5.12a (around E5). High on the wall he states "It is an amazing feeling -100% certainty that you won't fall is what keeps you from falling off". As someone who has done a fair amount of soloing, this statement told me a lot and I think Alex has his soloing completely under control, he has just taken it to a new level. A worthy winner of the Grand Prize.
© Henry Iddon
© Henry Iddon
Other top films at the event were Widdop Wall from Alastair Lee documenting Jordan Buys' ascent of the Yorkshire gritstone E9. This ascent is part of Alastair's film Grit Flick (See the UKC Review) and To the Rainbow from Bamboo Chicken, a moving film featuring Johnny Dawes and Paul Pritchard on Welsh slate. Another gripping offering came from Hotaches - Single Handed is the story of one handed climber Kev Shields as he pushes himself soloing harder and harder routes.
Lectures were perhaps for many people the highlight of the whole event. As well as Sharma and Pickford there was a whole host of other speakers such as Alain Robert (that French bloke wot climbs wiv no ropes), Major Phil Packer the disabled climber who ascended El Cap with Andy Kirkpatrick and Ian Parnell, Doug Scott lecturing on Kanchenjunga and Glen Denny showing his superb Yosemite photographs.
Approach: Extreme weather warnings: an early start up the A1 helped but nerves jangled crossing from the A66; sunset smudged by rain, high lorries ignoring warning signs and roads starting to flood. Chris safe at his south Kendal base-camp we move up to advanced base.
First Pitch: A quietly relieved start with a nice set of Thursday evening films. Alone on the Wall with Alex Honnold's amazing free solos of Moonlight Buttress and Half Dome was later awarded the grand prize. Beer belay with friends: the Kendal MRT Special, with linked donation, obligatory.
Second Pitch: Unhappy beginnings with terrible morning news: Cockermouth is in chaos and a policeman died at a failed bridge in Workington. Friday films are a subdued pleasure but high standards continue until a stutter: projection problems in Climbing 2 (did the climbing gods want us with Jerry Moffatt and Niall Grimes?). After emergency repairs, Welsh Connections cheers us up. More friends arrive and we warm ourselves with whisky samples in the marquee, before the communal belay and MRT Special.
Third Pitch: The new BMC Roaches guide, said to be delayed in customs, appears at the festival much to our delight. A copy, like a nicotine patch, allows us to leave for the day's presentations. A Madagascan canapé from Dave Pickford suggests us a holiday destination. Friends visiting for the day can only get tickets for the next event: Andy Kirkpatrick providing cover for Stephan Siegrist with only two days notice. Fortunately the show was hilarious and a big bonus was some personal aid climbing tips afterwards (the inspiring effect on us of Psycho Vertical was his fault!). Glen Denny has some historical and stunning Yosemite photography. Johnny Dawes weaves extracts of his forthcoming autobiography around questions, Niall slipstreaming as compère. Group belay and the MRT sells out.
The Final Push: Ueli Steck tells good humoured stories of alpine super-speed ascents (north face of the Eiger and home for family lunch!). Stefan Glowacz trumps this with Baffin big walls, polar bears and near starvation, maybe too close to his hero Shackleton. The BMC/MEF/AC expedition awards gave three refreshing tales of young alpine achievement, easing us to the end of the main difficulties. Efforts over, we bypass the summit award ceremony (Thursday and Friday film passes don't qualify us to attend!?).
Descent: Collect Chris, for the damp drive south. We muse over highlights, swap stories and discuss enhancements. Chris especially liked The Asgard Project, and found the lecture In the Footsteps of Shackleton interesting. The enlarged marquee was great; the events and film shows impressive (usually full); the craic as good as ever. More fringe events might benefit (wistful memories of The Owl and the Pussycat?), especially for those who come but can't get tickets. With all the blockbuster climbing productions we must encourage future 'low budget' efforts like Remembering Paul Williams and Hand In Hand.
Mr and Mrs Offwidth are Steve Clark and Lynn Robinson, festival regulars, prolific lower grade climbers and BMC guidebook volunteers.
Special thanks go to top photographer Henry Iddon for supplying us with some superb images. Thanks Henry!
You can view more of Henry's work here: Henry's Website
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